Updated: Nov 14, 2021
Matthew 8:12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?
As rebellious humans we are always trying to second guess or outdo God. Our philosophies often get twisted and become pragmatic. Life happens one moment at a time. We experience the present moment and we can seldom plan especially when adversity or tragedy suddenly appears. A recent example of that is the horrific explosion in Beirut Lebanon. Even had some people known or realized what was happening it happened to fast to decide on what to do next.
But sometimes we have time, even if only moments to reason and make decision.
In Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan we have an excellent scene (video above) wherein Captain Kirk and Spock discuss the readiness of the young crew, how each responds to adversity according to his own gifts. Spock and Kirk also discuss how the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or as Kirk adds “The One”.
Philosophy calls this ethical problem The Trolley Problem
The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics modeling an ethical dilemma. It is generally considered to represent a classic clash between two schools of moral thought, utilitarianism, and ethics.
The Trolley Problem: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the sidetrack. You have two options:
1) Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the sidetrack where it will kill one person.
Which is the more ethical option? What is the right thing to do?
This on its face is Utilitarianism. It is a logical approach that weighs the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action and leads the decision-maker to act in a way that maximizes the net benefits to the various stakeholders involved. In this case, Spock considered that to save the lives of his shipmates and the ship, he should sacrifice his own life. Humans might argue in rebuttal that Spock had an inalienable right to live and while dying for one’s cause might serve the greater good, it does not justify sacrificing a life or his life.
Most utilitarians believe that the only thing valuable is happiness, and the only thing bad is suffering; so, to maximize utility is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. Utilitarian’s would be baffled by the common Vulcan view that emotions are of no value. Utilitarianism then states a duty to put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few extends even to people one has personal relationships with, friends and family. This is played out often in the Star Trek story arc.
Creator Gene Roddenberry was raised as Baptist but as an adult became a humanist.
Here is his response to a question about his religious preference; "What is your religion?" My answer was: "I do not belong to any church, but I do consider myself a religious man. I believe that I am a part of you, and you are a part of me, and we are a part of all life . . . also a part of the creative force and intelligence behind life. Therefore, if we are a part of God then our lives are not brief meaningless things, but rather have a great importance and significance. All of us and each of us." -- Gene Roddenberry
Humanism is a worldview whereas an atheist is a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or a Supreme Being.
Let’s look at a real life example of selfless behavior:
Arland Dean Williams Jr. (September 23, 1935 – January 13, 1982) was a passenger aboard Air Florida Flight 90, which crashed on take-off in Washington, D.C., on January 13, 1982, killing 74 people. One of six people to initially survive the crash, he helped the other five escape the sinking plane before he himself drowned. From Wikipedia
The main difference between virtue ethics and utilitarianism is that virtue ethics focuses on the person carrying out an action, whereas utilitarianism focuses on the consequences of the action.
Our culture and the post-modern world in general have decided that truth is personal and relative. There is no absolute truth or objective right or wrong. Evil however actually derails this contention.
The moral high ground comes from somewhere. To say it is a social construct is inadequate.
History and personal experience make relativism mute. It is a selfish and often evil point of view and an approach to life that we affirm in our sin natures. The breakdown of American culture has its roots in sin and moral relativism.
James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
We can relate the needs of the many and the one to The Parable of the Lost Sheep in 1 Peter 2:24-25.
Since the beginning, God has always been the Good Shepherd who rescues His lost sheep (me and you). Even as Adam and Eve were hiding in shame because of their sin, God sought them out. He disciplined them but promised a Rescuer. The mystery of the Cross was yet to be revealed yet God forgave them by their faith and covered them with animal skins. God still reaches out for the lost to cover and recover them through the blood of Jesus Christ.
The parable of the lost sheep also shows us Christ’s attitude toward the saved sinner (you and I). The parable shows us that the shepherd ever rebuked or chided the lost. In love and mercy, he hoists the sheep upon his shoulders and takes it home. The shepherd bore the discomfort of carrying the sheep back home. Likewise, Jesus bore the weight of our sins upon the cross. As our great High Priest and Mediator, He continues to bear our cares and infirmities before God the Father. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. . .. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).
Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
You and I are called to be selfless, compassionate, and empathetic TO THE ONE AND THE MANY IN ALL OF LIFE!